Children of migrant workers become college-bound tutors under a successful local program


In the agricultural community of Immokalee, Florida, known for its large migrant worker population, a 40-year-old tutoring and mentoring program has made big strides in promoting higher education as a path to prosperity — and helping students prepare, apply and be able to afford college.

Just before starting her freshman year at Immokalee High School, Jazmin Lara-Vasquez was recruited to join the Guadalupe Center Tutor Corps program. Over the last four years, the now high school senior has tutored kindergarten to second-grade students after school, assisting them with various subjects such as reading, writing and math. In addition to receiving payment for tutoring, Lara-Vasquez also earns scholarship funds to support her college education later on.

“Having been here for years, I think it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve been able to grow as a person. I’ve learned things about me,” Lara-Vazquez said. “And I’ve gotten preparation for what life after high school looks like.”

Lara-Vazquez, 18, plans to attend the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Jazmin Lara-Vasquez smiles for a portrait (Guadalupe Center)Jazmin Lara-Vasquez smiles for a portrait (Guadalupe Center)

Jazmin Lara-Vasquez smiles for a portrait (Guadalupe Center)

Since 1984, the Guadalupe Center has served approximately 1,950 children and youth a year in the Immokalee school system, ranging in age from infants and children in their Early Childhood Program to their after-school tutoring and summer programs and their Tutor Corps. According to the center, over 94% of its program participants have obtained college degrees and initiated careers spanning various fields.

Currently, 160 former Guadalupe Center students are enrolled in colleges nationwide and another 125 high school students are actively preparing to attend a higher education institution.

These numbers are significant considering that, according to the latest U.S. census data, only 6% of adults in Immokalee hold a bachelor’s degree, placing it among the lowest rates nationwide, and almost 24% live in poverty.

Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) of Immokalee’s residents are born outside the U.S.; 73% are Hispanic and 21% are Black.

Most of the Guadalupe students are first-generation college students, and all share a common experience.

“It’s a community that lacks resources,” Guadalupe Center President Dawn Montecalvo said, “and if we can bring those resources to the students and provide them with education, we can change the face of the community — just change the world.”

Students in the Tutor Corps program must hold a 3.0 grade-point average throughout their time at Immokalee High School to receive guidance and support from an adult mentor. Guadalupe Center staff members offer the students a range of college and career readiness resources, including ACT and SAT preparation, mentorship opportunities, financial literacy training, scholarship assistance and compensation for tutoring younger peers.

“We didn’t have one student who had to take out a student loan, I’m very, very proud of that. And that’s through our partnerships and scholarships,” Robert Spano, vice president of programs at Guadalupe Center, said.

John Auguste. (Guadalupe Center)John Auguste. (Guadalupe Center)

John Auguste. (Guadalupe Center)

John Auguste, a 17-year-old high school senior who will attend Northeastern University in Boston, said the program has provided him with a realistic preview of college life as he transitions from the predominantly Latino community where he grew up to a more diverse college environment.

“I think that culture shift might be difficult, at first, and be very different from what we’re used to in Immokalee,” said Auguste, whose family immigrated from Haiti.

Silviano Rubio-Diaz, an 18-year-old high school senior who plans to attend Florida SouthWestern State College, said the tutoring program offered him direction.

“Before being part of the program, I was lost, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school. Now, being here, they have helped me prepare and go as far as finding what career I want to get into,” Rubio-Diaz, whose family is from Mexico, said.

Silviano Rubio-Diaz (Guadalupe Center)Silviano Rubio-Diaz (Guadalupe Center)

Silviano Rubio-Diaz (Guadalupe Center)

As Lara-Vazquez gets ready to leave her community to attend college, she reflected on the fact that through her tutoring and her academic achievement, she’s helped younger residents consider a similar path.

“You paved the way for other people looking up to you. Some think, ‘Oh, I can’t go to college because I can’t be the person or I’m not gonna know how to,’ but you kind of show them that, hey, if I was the first generation and I was able to do it, you can also do it as long as you put yourself to it,” she said.

Montecalvo said she hopes they can continue to reach more students in the community. “That way, we can keep adding more levels to the program, so that you know our students are coming out of high school and going into college stronger,” she said.

Liliana Carreno-Gonzalez, a 17-year-old high school senior who plans to attend the University of Toledo in Ohio, spoke of what she’d like to do after she earns her college degree.

“I plan to come back to Immokalee and become a teacher. And the reason I want to come back is because this is where I was raised,” she said. “I really want to help my community and give back.”

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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